“One teacher at a time, one lesson at a time, one innovative idea at a time; a transformation is taking place in our schools.” – USA

“Awareness of possibilities opens the door to change,” says Cheryl Arnett, winner at the Microsoft Partners in Learning US forum 2010. “A trip to the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum in Cape Town, South Africa opened my eyes to innovation in education around the world. I was amazed and inspired by the achievements of global teachers and humbled to be selected to represent my country. I returned to my school overflowing with ideas and passion to make changes in my own teaching and to share what I learned with others.”

Arnett’s passion and ideas have in fact overflowed to not only other teachers, but to students and educators throughout the world. In her own blog, as well as on the Huffington Post, Arnett shares her ideas and experiences to help educators everywhere.
But she doesn’t stop there. “As each door has opened for me, I have tried to find a way to pay it forward,” says Arnett. Her class was featured in the Smithsonian in Your Classroom magazine in 2011. They have their own blog, YouTube channel, and a collaborative wiki. 

“Wikispaces is a wonderful way for children from around the world to become friends. My
friend in Beirut, Rawya Shatila, and I like to say, ‘If children everywhere became friends when they were six, maybe there would be less conflict and war in the world!’”

Arnett is also a member of Microsoft’s Kinect in Education team and spent this last semester using the Kinect in her classroom while developing outstanding Kinect activities, like the game Flag Frenzy

Here, Arnett shares her thoughts on the benefits of collaboration for both students and teachers, and on trends that can transform our classrooms.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

My own classroom and students have benefited greatly from my experiences. We do more real world project-based learning, addressing 21st century standards, and collaborate with students and teachers I have met from around the world. Inspiring others to change takes time and patience. Educators face the challenge of existing expectations and traditional teaching practices that are difficult to put aside. Change is a great deal of work and does not happen overnight, but one teacher at a time, one lesson at a time, one innovative idea at a time; a transformation is taking place in our schools.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

Start small. Try one new idea. Find a resource for connecting with other teachers who are making transformations in their teaching. Changing the way we teach is a collaborative endeavor and so much more successful when working together with others.  Utilize the rich online resources available like http://www.pil-network.com/ and http://shoutlearning.org/.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

Technology has been key to the collaboration and communication in our learning. Through technology, not only have I connected to a network of teachers, but my students have also been able to learn from and share with people around the globe. From Skyping with other classrooms, to participating in webcasts with experts, and posting to blogs and wikis, my students have expanded their exposure to teachers and shared their learning with the world. Just last week, we Skyped with a class of children in Colombia who do not speak English. That did not stop the children from communicating and my children can’t wait to contact them again soon. This year we included technology in the form of the Xbox 360 Kinect system to our classroom as well. Using the Kinect provided new ways for young children to engage in concepts and skills while making learning fun. I can’t think of a better way to build a love for learning!

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

In this time of educational transformation, there is a great deal of attention focused on our schools. Although there is great controversy surrounding our educational system, it is critical that we have the conversations. No change can take place without hard work and conflict as we work through the possibilities. In Colorado, for example, the state is asking districts to rewrite curriculum to include a concept-based approach to teaching. We are creating the change that will ultimately be our norm and that is a great positive for our region.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education? 

Less emphasis on creating a nation of successful test-takers and more on creating eager, engaged critical thinkers and problem solvers will, in my opinion, better serve our educational system. Perhaps less top-down government regulation and more teacher grass-roots innovation will lead to the higher achievement and success we seek.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Teacher and student collaboration are the key to innovation. There are so many creative, innovative minds working and learning in education. Connect, share, and expand the conversation. Technology is the key as teachers and students everywhere can be connected in a global classroom.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Build a network of professional colleagues. Read books and blogs, share ideas, and engage in collaborative projects. Expand your classroom beyond the physical walls. Take your students out into the world both locally and to distant places virtually. Share your classroom with experts from all walks of life to expand perspectives for your students. Listen to children. Find out what excites them, what they are interested in, what their ideas are. Provide opportunities for your students to explore, create, and investigate. Value and celebrate their accomplishments. Help them connect with the world.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning? 

The educational “trend” that is helping students most is that of inquiry-based learning. Giving students an opportunity to investigate their passions and satisfy their curiosity is engaging and motivating. Letting go of textbook facts and opening the doorway to the world of readily available information on the Internet and real life experiences!

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?  

I would give every child in the world a computer with Skype so they could connect with one another to become friends and share ideas. One of my most successful classroom projects paired my students with a class in Beirut, Lebanon. The children became such good friends and learned so much from each other. The teacher, Rawya Shatila, and I decided that if children everywhere could become friends when they were six there would be far less problems to worry about later. Through global friendship and understanding there is great hope for the future.

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Join the Partners in Learning Network and experience global collaboration!

Innovate in the classroom, help your students build the skills they need for the future—such as problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity—with Partners in Learning.

You’ll meet other innovative teachers for collaboration opportunities, get access to free teacher resources, and learn about great ways to improve your personal teaching practice using technology.

Embraced by the theme ‘Your Ideas Matter’ the Partners in Learning Network is a community for you, by you, and further amplifies the great work that is being done every day by teachers and schools around the world.  With this idea in mind, we invite you to try out this global online resource and community designed to encourage collaboration and the spread of ideas for the betterment of education worldwide.

The new Partners in Learning Network is the next generation of the global network
serving educators and school leaders in over 115 countries.  To facilitate a truly global community of innovative educators, the site is now available in 36 different languages, thanks to the use of Microsoft Translator Services.

Sign in, create an account and start connecting with thousands of educators worldwide here.  

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About Cheryl Arnett
First and Second Grade Teacher at Sunset Elementary School, Craig, Colorado, USA

Birthplace: I was born in Oregon and grew up in Northern California
Current residence: Craig, Colorado
Education: B.A. from Regis University – Denver, M.A. from Grand Canyon University –
Phoenix
Websites I check every day: Twitter, Facebook
Person who inspires me most: My students are my inspiration. Listening to children puts life in perspective and anchors me to what is most important.
Favorite childhood memory: My favorite childhood memories were our annual summer camping trips to Ettersburg, California, where my family and those of my
friends spent weeks at a time living in tents, swimming all day in the river, and putting on skits at night by the campfire.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Headed to Redmond, Washington, for the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2012 US Forum. We will take a summer vacation as well, but have not yet decided on the destination.
When was the last time you laughed? Why? I laugh everyday! Laughter keeps us healthy and happy. My grandchildren always make me laugh, as do my students, my husband, and Facebook.
Favorite book: I have rarely been without a book since I was a child, so it would be
impossible to choose one favorite. Beverly Cleary was my favorite childhood author. I will never forget reading Christy by Catherine Marshall as a teenager. Recently, I particularly liked The Time Travelers Wife, Blind Your Ponies, and The Hunger Games series. Professionally, I just finished The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and I’m beginning Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner.
Favorite music: I love all music and particularly Country – Rascal Flatts and The Zac Brown Band.
Your favorite quote or motto: Take time each day to appreciate the simple things:
nature, children, and life.

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